Where does more cowbell come from?
More cowbell originated with a Saturday Night Live sketch that aired in 2000. In a parody of VH1’s series Behind the Music, Will Ferrell plays Gene Frenkle, the fictional cowbell player for Blue Öyster Cult, as the band records its song “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The other band members ask Frenkle to tone down his manic cowbell performance, until their producer, played by Christopher Walken, insists that what the recording really needs is more cowbell. In the most iconic line, Walken says “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell.”
Perhaps because of Ferrell’s enthusiastic performance or Walken’s deadpan delivery, the sketch became extremely popular. Rolling Stone went on to name it Saturday Night Live’s ninth greatest sketch.
The sketch’s popularity led to numerous tributes. The same year the sketch aired, Geek Speak Weekly created the Cowbell Project, an attempt to document every rock song to use the quirky instrument. Sadly, the database seems to no longer be online.
Naturally, as with any beloved catchphrase, the more cowbell started to appear on merchandise from t-shirts to pint glasses, and, yes, even cowbells.
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg loved the sketch so much that he sought to make the cowbell the team’s “signature” six years after the original sketch aired. The team has handed out cowbells to fans, and used a clip of Walken demanding more cowbell to encourage the crowd to make noise.
In 2015, more cowbell entered the political sphere when Ted Cruz claimed that President Obama offered the same solution (namely “more taxes, more government”) to every problem, just as Walken’s character single-mindedly called for more cowbell. In 2017, Cruz used this reference to levy the same claim against Bernie Sanders in a televised healthcare debate.
Even the members of Blue Öyster Cult have weighed in on the phenomenon. Guitarist Buck Dharma said of the sketch "I've probably seen it 20 times and I'm still not tired of it." Dharma also noted that people still ask him about the fictional Gene Frenkle.
“Orchestra: *25 minutes into Strauss's "Alpine Symphony"* Us: MORE COWBELL!”
@TorontoSymphony Twitter (March 20, 2017)
“I have Spring Fever. And the only cure is MORE COWBELL.”
@ADDiane Twitter (March 20, 2017)
“There were so many worthy candidates for our list of the Top 10 Cowbell Songs that we simply had to address the overflow with what else? More cowbell!”
Eduardo Rivadavia, “More Cowbell Songs,” Ultimate Classic Rock